Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Bittersweet Epiphany

In 2008, when I was twenty-four years old, I wrote on my Facebook page that while I enjoy the conveniences and technology of modern times, I could easily sell off most of my possessions and move somewhere remote. Yet, one year later, my blog was filled with desires to have a large, lush wardrobe and a massive record collection. I wanted a different job that paid more money so I could make numerous cosmetic upgrades to my home and to eat at fancy restaurants.

When I got divorced in 2011, my expenses doubled. I was now paying the full mortgage and utilities instead of just half. I also took a 10% pay cut at work due to budget constraints. Now, I had to pay more bills with less money. Shortly after, a distracted driver hit me on the freeway and totaled my car. Then, my dishwasher malfunctioned and flooded my kitchen. Finally, there was that knee injury and its related expenses. And I couldn't help but whine to myself about it... at first.

The end of my marriage forced some obvious change, but it also instigated some more gradual shifts in my approach to life. I didn't like my ex-husband's attachment to money and things, and I was beginning to notice a correlation with my own version of materialism. Sometimes an event can change the course of how we see things, and the exposure is bittersweet. It's so challenging to think you know what you want and how to live well, and to have that notion blown to smithereens. It created an uneasiness in me, and I could feel my heart grasping out into the void for attachment and meaning. The process of enduring that was very uncomfortable, but crucial to the growth that followed.

Despite the daunting task of restructuring my life views, I no longer had the deceptive veil over my eyes. Inevitably, I had to shift to a different way of spending, or I wouldn't be able to afford my home. I felt trapped by my house, which I'd owned for less than a year; I couldn't sell it because I had no equity, and I couldn't afford to keep living the way I was. I wanted to seek release by going out with friends or indulging in retail therapy, but would stay home alone knowing I couldn't afford it. I found that I couldn't pay my mortgage in full by myself; I had to ask my family for help. I am so fortunate to have such helpful, loving parents who were capable of financially assisting me... But I felt I was letting myself down because I'd lost my independence. All of this was better than staying in a toxic marriage, right? Right? At the time, I was very unsure.

While I had always been fiscally responsible with a budget, I now had to get more selective and more creative with my finances. As my knee surgery loomed, I knew I'd need to account for copays and expenses not covered by my insurance. I challenged myself to a spending fast for one month, and though the process was very difficult at times, the final results astounded me. Resisting that initial urge to spend when everyone else wanted to see the latest film or go out for a drink paid off in the long run, and I was able to cover my additional expenses without dipping into my savings.

The results didn't last, however, because I went back to my old method of budgeting. I realized I couldn't go on a spending "diet," because like food diets, they are temporary and yield temporary results. My mind shifted again to that twenty-four-year-old me, who didn't yet see the wisdom in her own words. I began to read blogs and books about minimalism, and the idea resonated with me immediately. Shortly thereafter, I was selling my possessions online or donating them. I was being more mindful of what I did choose to acquire.

I fasted on my spending again, this time for two months. During this period of fasting, I became even more aware of what I truly value. I know that I want to get rid of more stuff, and invest more of my time in experiences: enjoying the company of loved ones, playing guitar, being outdoors, reading a book, painting, exploring. I want to spend less time living vicariously through the Internet and more time seeing things with my own eyes and hearing them with my ears and touching them with my hands. I also want to regain my financial independence and invest in my future. Most of all, I want to drink in new cultures and obtain fresh perspectives in a way that only travel can provide.


  1. Kelsi - I can definitely relate. There needs to be more discussions like this, especially between friends and family. I have and still struggle with budgeting, getting rid of my s&it and balancing spending.

  2. Hi Kelsi! I just discovered your gem of a blog from Joshua Becker's site, and I couldn't be happier to find someone on the same journey as me :) Looks like you've been working at it a lot longer though! This was a great post and it's sooo true - life is totally about wealth, not money. Can't wait to read more!

  3. You should read this: http://www.amazon.com/Behind-Beautiful-Forevers-Mumbai-Undercity/dp/1400067553/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1359773901&sr=8-1&keywords=books%2C+all+the+beautiful+tomorrows

    You and Joshua over at "Becoming Minimalist" are playing at something I fear you have little understanding of. Unlike the billions of people on this planet who don't even have access to clean water and a toilet.... You are but financially embarrassed and lacking sufficient motivation. If you found yourself living a TRUE "minimalist" life lacking any hint of a social, or, cultural safety net you would be suicidal. You are playing at this and I don't think you realize how hideously cold and insulting that is to those who are actually living it.

    Mrs. N.

  4. Mrs. N. - Thank you for your comment. The situation you are referring to is not lost on me. I believe minimalism is subjective, and the definition I apply to myself is that I strive to intentionally live with less stuff, whereas I used to feel pressured to buy more. I think it's clear that I most certainly do not glorify the lives of suffering people, nor do I wish to glorify the buy-more-spend-more culture that so many people in the United States feel pressured to follow. I'm not proud of how I've spent my money over the years, especially because of the reasons you mentioned. This is why I am undergoing a process of change. I will be sure to investigate your reading recommendation, and I also strive to travel to such places to see and hopefully experience different cultures for myself. It's easy for many people to fall into the trap of living in a bubble where knowledge of culture outside of their community is limited and skewed. My awareness is heightened and ever-growing. Also, it appears that my lifestyle choices have offended you more than anyone else. My goal is to live well, and I'm not there yet, but I'm working towards it every day.