Why’s the bed shaking?
That was my first thought when I blearily opened my eyes on October 15, 2013.
I stared at the shelf across my bed before I realized everything was shaking.
A second passed. I was hyper-awake.
I locked eyes with my sister on the other side of the bed we shared. We were silent but the noise was deafening: the cracking of the plaster on the ceiling, the window panes wobbling, the crash of things breaking around us.
Another second passed. We rolled away from each other and dove on the floor. I pulled my quilt with stiff fingers and crouched under it.
“Where’s the dog?” I yelled.
“I don’t know!” My sister’s panicked voice was muffled by all the noise.
I felt something burrowing under my quilt. I sighed in relief when my shih tzu climbed on my lap.
“He’s with me!” The door opened.
“MOM, GO HIDE!” my sister shouted.
I made myself as small as I could. The sounds of falling debris crowded in. My dog shivered against my stomach.
Please stop. God, please make it stop.
The deadliest Philippine earthquake in more than 20 years was a magnitude 7.2. That, and more than 4,000 aftershocks for the rest of the year meant hundreds of people injured and dead.
Those days were surreal: sleeping by the front door in day clothes in case another quake started, crouching by my desk at the office during an aftershock, hearing people I knew had been hurt—had died.
And the cleaning: sweeping out jagged glass and tile shards, fixing doors after they fell off, putting everything back in its place…
Then I saw my dog’s bed.
It was buried under uneven plate shards and a fine white dust.
That plate was a gift to a 7-year-old me: a porcelain eyesore with a yellowed photo of me glued on the middle. When I passed by it, I winced at how awkward I looked in it with my red face and my hair in my squinty eyes.
I’d wanted to get rid of it for more than a decade but I felt guilty just thinking about throwing it out.
My tiny dog was usually in bed until 9 in the morning. Thank God he’d come running to me during the quake.
I immediately held him to my chest after seeing the damage. What a close call!
Suddenly, I was angry.
Because of that ugly plate, my dog almost got hurt. I didn’t even want to keep it, and look what it almost did!
That anger was clarifying. I studied the house with new eyes: the broken shampoo bottles I’d stockpiled because of a discount, the free mug now split down the middle, the crumpled clothes that didn’t fit me but still needed to be washed and put away…
Things I rarely used. Some I didn’t even like. All of them needing to be fixed, wiped down, and put away.
Because owning something? It’s about commitment.
It’s not only about spending the money to buy it. After that, it has to be maintained so you can keep using it. That means storing, dusting, washing, folding, and so on. And when it’s worn, it has to be fixed too.
Those are a lot of actions related to owning stuff. And repairing and cleaning all my things after the earthquake made me realize that.
Then my next thought: What if I had less stuff when this happened?
The house would still have fallen around my ears, true. But the clean-up would have been easier and quicker. And my family would have been less likely to get hurt.
Surrounded by debris, what was important to me?
What had I cared about under my quilt waiting for the shaking to stop?
My faith in God, my family, my dog, my friends.
That was a short list.
What else did I need on top of that?
Food and water, and money to buy them from work that fulfilled me.
A home to live in.
Less clothes than I thought I needed. The earthquake had jammed my closet shut and still having clothes to wear for the week it took to open it made that clear to me.
Three pairs of shoes, maybe.
Less than ten books.
Two or three bags.
Everything else was clutter.
The ill-fitting clothes and shoes, the unread books, the unused products in my medicine cabinet that were now piled in my bathroom sink.
I could do without the knickknacks that dropped with my shelves. (Yes, with. The shelves fell off too.) They’d become rubble that needs to be thrown out now, anyway.
And definitely not that ugly plate.
I look back at that earthquake as the turning point that led me to simple living. Standing in the middle of a ruined house with my dog in my arms was when I accepted my hoarding did me no favors in difficult times.
I began to want something better:
A life filled with what mattered to me, including only the things I loved and used.
A life where my stuff enriched my everyday instead of crowding me out of my own home.
A life that was intentional.
It’s now 2020 and I’m still pressing forward. It was a process to get here, and there’ll be more steps and stumbles as I move toward a life of less.
But I’ve made progress and I’m grateful. Especially since the comfortable home I now live in adds calm and not stress to an already tense COVID-19 season.
Waking up in the middle of an earthquake woke me up to what minimalism could do for me, for all of us. I hope you continue joining me in creating lives of purpose and simplicity.
About the Author: Daisy is an ex-hoarder and recovering workaholic who helps people reclaim their time, declutter their homes, and make space for life at Simple Not Stressful.